"The touch of the seashell as it sits on the palm of your hand."
This is what expressive arts specialist Khitam Idilbi wanted the 20 participating teachers inside a training hall in Tubas, West Bank to feel. “Feel it, smell it and look at its details,” says Khitam as she hands each teacher a seashell.
“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Some saw an entire sea, some saw their childhood, some saw shapes of animals, or a familiar face. Even after they exchanged seashells with their neighbor, each teacher saw each seashell in a different way.
“That’s the beauty of being part of a group,” concluded one the teachers. “Our different ideas and viewpoints enrich our collective experience.”
The teachers, ranging in age and background, came from different areas and preschools around Tubas to participate in Anera’s teacher training course as part of Anera’s early childhood development program (ECD).
Khitam Idilbi is among other trainers working in tandem with ECD trainer and coordinator Sulaima Abu El-Haj who covers core-curriculum topics. Khitam is an expressive arts councilor, trainer and therapist, with 25 years of experience in training.
The serenity of her session that day gradually evolved into a livelier atmosphere as the teachers took on the next task: using clay to mold a representation of a place dear to their hearts or one they dream of visiting. Each teacher built a different model and then explained to the others what it was and how it made her feel.
Tears streamed down a teacher’s face as she reminisced about her childhood home and how her mother’s warmth and love held the family together. Another explained how she would love to vanish to a remote island with her fiancé and just forget about the world. They all laughed and cried together, asked questions and enjoyed each other’s stories.
Teachers Get to Be Kids Again While Learning
What made the day unique was the reading of a short story by Khitam’s friend who works in drama and education. Al Miller has 40 years experience as a teacher, clown, mime, director, playwright, actor and story teller who lives in the US state of Maine.
Al was visiting the West Bank at the time of the session and was keen to join Khitam. “I mostly watched Khitam work and admired how well she interacts with everyone and how excited teachers get working with her,” explained Al.
Thanks to Al, the teachers got to see the story of the fox and the crow in a whole new light, this time from the perspective of the listener. Their eyes were fixated on Al as he brilliantly acted out the scenes and embodied each of the characters.
The session also included a lot of hands-on training. The teachers organized themselves into five groups and began painting a theme of their choice. Each group produced one large painting and then used the painting to create a brief story that they narrated to the rest of the group.
For the final review of their work, the teachers sat with Khitam so each one could express her feelings and ideas and discuss what she had learned.
This was Khitam’s third session with the same group of teachers, working alongside Anera’s Sulaima Abu Al Haj. “I enjoy training this group because the teachers are interacting well and are serious about developing themselves,” said Khitam. “I hope I will have enough time to explain more about why it is important to include arts in all aspects of the preschool and not just limit it to painting.”
Sulaima Abu El-Haj says the key is for the teachers to practice what they have absorbed in the sessions to make their classrooms a truly enjoyable learning experience for the children. The teachers got to be kids again, making houses out of clay, admiring a sea shell, listening intently to a story and painting in groups. “This is how learning happens!”
Under the ECD program Anera also renovates, furnishes and equips preschools with child-appropriate materials and provides reading bags for kids and parents to encourage learning both in the class and at home.